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Ardenmohr
Chapter II. - Exploring the Country


In the morning every one was up betimes, breathing the pure mountain air before the early mist had left the hill-tops.

“Well, Ward, how do you like your quarters?” the Major inquired.

“Charming; better than my late day-dreams, and the bath is worth a voyage to China.”

As our bath is unique, I may describe it. The burn close to the Lodge has been enlarged, so as to form a deep wide pool of some eight yards broad by twenty in length, deep enough for a swim; on one side steep and rocky, on the other overgrown with bush and creeping plants, except where the grass steps lead down to the water.

At the end of the pool a small hill-stream has been diverted, so that it falls over the projecting rock in a perpetual shower; the waters being from springs on the hill, the supply is plentiful, and almost too cool and bracing: a seat in the damp grotto would compose his pulse, even after a bout with the late Premier.

Of the Major’s barbarian trophies, about the most respected is a small gong, which now summoned to breakfast. The long dining-room looked even jollier than the night before, the snowy breakfast-table covered with the et ceteras of this (to me) most refined and agreeable of meals.

“Will you make tea, Abbot?” the Major said; “coffee is coming presently for those who want it.” Burmah, the Major’s Indian servant, brought coffee, some trout, a salmi of plovers, a monster ham, and a small basket of eggs, so we were amply provisioned, and we breakfasted, chatted, and cemented friendship pleasantly ; the long open windows looking right on the hills, and the view pleasantly obscured by great clusters of roses and honeysuckle, which fringed the windows and filled the room with their fragriance.

“Now, what is to be the order of the day?” I inquired. “Eh, Major?”

“We have lots of time for sport,” he replied; “and I was thinking of a walk over the hills towards the sea-coast, as wc had better know the bearings of the country before the shooting. What say you, Ward?”

“Agreed.”

“And you, Frederick Peyton, are you impatient to land a grilse or some sea trout?”

“Not too impatient; besides you said that more rain would improve the fishing. They must wait. I’m for the walk, Major Duncan.”

“All right, my boy, except that salmon and sea-trout do not wait much, but are continually on the move till they reach their spawning-grounds; not as in English rivers you have fished, where the trout are local, or nearly so, and large ones known by head mark.”

“But the yellow trout here are local too, are they not?”

“To some extent; but Scotch rivers, when flooded, run so strong, that the trout are carried off or run up the smaller streams, so you cannot, as in English rivers, expect a certain monster behind a certain bank; but a little experience will put you up to the peculiarities of the Celtic salars. Then are we for a pipe on the fir brae and tak’ the hill?”

This fir brae is a mossy knoll, with one old Scotch, fir, and a rude stone scat. As it has a fine view down the glen, and is quite near the house, it is a favourite place for councils and schemes.

“You do not smoke, Fred?” the Major inquired. “So much the better.”

“Not much yet,” answered Fred, laughing; “a cheroot or a small cigar; but it may happen, as I see I am single, and cousin Hope is like a factory chimney.”

“Eight, Fred, but it is for my lungs.”

“After which story,” said Fred, “I may ask you for a cheroot.”

“No, thank you; I promised your mother and sister to look after you, and they will be in this neighbourhood soon, and need not find you an expert, and I may relax at the hill-top if you have breath left to puff.”

“Very well, I am complaisant on all things, even to lending you my hook-book.”

“What of that, sirrah?”

“Just that when you do overhaul my tackle, I have afterwards great bother to find my most killing flies.”    .

“Quite likely, you so tangle your tackle; but I must own you have some nice flies.”

“Alas! I had.”

“You defamatory young imp! May the gnats punish your white shanks. Where did you get that kilt?”

“In Glasgow; is it not neat? I got two—a grey and a brown, when Messrs. Ward and Abbott were yawning in bed, or decorating their comely persons.” “Do you know, Fred, you look exactly like the pretty kilted ballet girls meant to represent young Norvals.”

“Keep thy compliments, Sir Knight, for a certain sweeter cousin. At all events, the kilt is. an improvement on your ginger-brown knickerbocker rig, which makes the darling of the ladies like a big Cochin China cock.”

“That’s right,” said the Major, “keep these tall tyrants in order, and I’ll back you always two against two. Shall we start now?”

The keeper had gone on some time before, and we sent Dick with him; for, anticipating the usefulness of that universal genius, we desired he should know the whole bearings of the country, so as to find us at any time or place. As expected, Dick soon knew the whole district nearly as well as the keepers, and we could calculate on his meeting us with letters, &c., in any part of this wild country.

Our walk led for a mile or so along the road, and then we fairly took the hill, striking nearly west over very rough ground. On the first ascent we saw a good many grouse, and Ward, on seeing grouse for the first time, said that they seemed so slow and large in comparison with partridges, that he hoped to give a good account of them soon—wait and see.

A walk of about half an hour brought us to the first high ranges; then there was easy walking over comparatively level moor, with ridges and marshy places here and there, the curlews piping their loud wild whistle overhead as we came near their homes. We here made a detour round a small, black, Tartarean-looking pool, in which, the keeper’s boy told us, were curious “hairy” trout, very hard to catch. I conceded the likely difficulty, but promised five shillings for a couple of them. One, I thought, might be challenged as a lusus naturce, but two must be a settler for Mr. Frank Buckland.

On getting round this dismal pool, we approached the highest range, and girded our loins for the pull up, which was tortuous, steep, and rugged, but not too distressing, and in half an hour more we were standing on the sky-line.

And what a scene; how bright and beautiful! the cool, fresh air blowing from the wide Atlantic Ocean, which seemingly lay at our feet, and expanding into space till it met the clouds in the far horizon! Westward out to sea are the rugged hills of the Isle of Sky; and far to the right, in hazy distance, the sea-girt lands of Harris and Lewes, all on this July noon as bright and tranquil as the fairy isles of an Italian lake, and looking as if they had never known sunless days nor the wild winter storms of the Atlantic.

Although not on the very highest peaks, which are miles to the south-west, we were equally well placed for extensive range of view, and wandered for a long time among these sterile faces, picking up curious stones and plants, and now . and again taking another gaze at the beauties of the Almighty’s work.

At one of the rocky ledges we started some ptarmigan ; they flew off leisurely, and alighted on a peak a short distance away, seeming not much shyer than house-pigeons, for except by the falcon or hill fox the harmless inhabitants of these lofty regions are rarely disturbed.

“Oh! what pretty birds!” exclaimed Ward. “What are their habits, Major?—you that dabble in natural history must know. Shall we find many on the grouse beats?”

“No, indeed, Ward. Ptarmigan never descend from the high tops; and even in bitter winter storms when the hardy Highlander shivers by his peat fire, and the starving red deer are invading the very kail yards, these delicate-looking birds seek no shelter but the rocks, and find their food amongst their crannies.”

“Is it not strange that they do not starve during winter snows?”

“At first thought it might seem so, but parts are always blown clear of snow by mountain gales : in such places these feathered Esquimaux find their food during the day, and at night they shelter among the rocks or huddle together beneath the snow.”

“How odd ! when the mountain sheep and chamois seek the lower ranges in mid-winter, that these swiftwinged birds who could fly to shelter and cover in a few minutes, yet feel secure in their storm-swept regions. And tell me, Major, do mountain hares also stick to the high grounds?” Ward asked.

“As a rule they do, but not always on the highest ranges, and they frequently come far down. I have often, both in antumn and winter, shot mountain hares quite close to the cultivated fields, but not off the moors. Yet they are not exalted aristocrats like ptarmigan, who never condescend to places of low degree. Apropos of white hares, I heard an odd story from the Earl of M—’s keeper about them, and which was to this effect. A party of sportsmen had gone from Logie Lodge to the hills to shoot white hares, which are numerous there (two or three hundred a day not being unusual on great drives). Well, one of the party was a simple-minded Englishman, totally new to the Highlands, and had been crammed by his friends with tales of “ghosts,” “second sight,” “will-o’-the-wisp,” and sundry matters of Celtic superstition; so, being a proper gobemo'uche, his friends had filled him with fear and wonder. On fixing the places of the guns before the beat, this worthy was placed high up the hill behind a rock, told not to fire till the hares had passed him, and was then left alone. While waiting with anxious mind and many-coloured thoughts, a dense mist crept over the hills, and soon closed round him; beyond a yard or two he could see nothing, while the near objects had a weird and fantastic look that made him shiver. By-and-by came distant cries, nearer and nearer the shonts of the beaters. On looking anxiously around, he saw suddenly appear several great white spectres gazing at him, and silently more and more stole up the misty hill, and, surrounded by these unearthly-looking things, he could stand it no longer, but, at the risk of his neck, bolted down hill, and, by great chance, safely reached the Lodge before dark; the keepers, on coming to his ambush, found he had left his gun and gloves on the heather.”

We chuckled at the Major’s story, and afterwards mountain hares were subjects of many a joke; but we had to go away long before they become ghostly white.

On the way homewards the Major pointed out the distant woods of Dunesk. These woods we were to shoot over in October, before the laird went to Nice with his grand-daughter. The Major said we should be charmed with the ancient house and Jacobite relics therein.

The walk home was by a longer but easier route. From one point we saw the great loch, and our river of promise debouching from it to run its broken course to the sea.

Arrived home, as Burmah said dinner would be ready in an hour, wo betook ourselves to our snug tent-like rooms till then. In an hour we sat down to dinner cool and comfortable.    .

One and all we are simple enough in matter of eating, although a little fanciful in liquids. There is soup and fish generally; this followed by the never-tired-of Highland mutton; then a wild duck, a leveret, or one of Burmah’s wonderful curries, is about the extent of the usual carte. In the house are all sorts of potted and preserved things, which are seldom touched, except sometimes the sweeter sorts,' as an excuse for getting Highland cream. At this, our inaugurating dinner, some of Major Duncan’s East India sherry was declared perfect.

“What,” asked Ward, “do people mean by advertising cheap dinner sherry? The very idea is abomination. Why, where, in the name of Yatel or IJde, should one drink good wine, if not at dinner?”

“Bight, 0 king,” said I, “have Seltzer, luncheon or ladies’ sherry, if you like ; but dinner-wine should stand first in the list; and, after dinner, have what you like, from weak claret to brandy, or for some, who must have it from custom, old port or Madeira. What say you, Major?”

“Agree, to be sure. But* had we not better have one bottle of Cliquot after the long walk? Bred, you shall have a glass, as you had only a little beer.”

“Not to-day, Major; but I’ll drink a little sherry and water when dinner is over, and go out for a stroll by the bum.”

“Take Dick with you,” said Ward. “When I was last at Beechford with my aunt he harried the river every spare hour, and got lots of chub, roach, and such canaille.”

“Come, Hope Ward, don’t disparage English fish; they are not much to eat, to be sure, but they are some pumpkins to catch, I can tell you; and I know something of trout too.”

“Quite correct, Fred,” I said. “When fishing the river Welland, in Lincolnshire, I found that out. It is one of these quiet canal-looking streams common in England, but so pretty and pastoral, fringed with sedge and drooping willows, and it literally swarms with these ignoble fish, as Ward terms them. Yet I found it very hard to kill the larger ones; indeed, had trout been as abundant, I should have basketed any quantity.”

“Ah,” said Fred, “I know that river. A schoolfellow of mine got a jack of six pounds in it. Was that a good one, Major?”

“Yes, Fred, a very good river fish; but I hope you may get something larger in the loch.”

After dinner, smoking requisites were introduced, and we settled down for a whiff and a quiet chat, and Fred went off.

“I like that small cousin of yours,” said Major Duncan. “He seems a manly and tractable, little fellow.”    .

“I am glad you do like him,” replied Ward; “indeed, had I not hoped so, I should not have brought him.”

“Amusingly cheeky,” I remarked, “but a nice boy, and game as a bantam, like all the Peytons, men and women—eh, Hope?”

“Cheeky enough; most Harrow boys .are; but Fred has a fine temper, and never sulks.”

“He gets on fairly at school, I hear; and, do you know, I often think it might be better if most boys added a year or two to school time, and had then done with scholastic training—eh, Major?” “Eight, Abbott. Yes, I agree with you that, at a good school, enough Latin and Greek should be had for all practical use. Difficulties and niceties are the speciality of some men, who make their scholarly exactness a saving of trouble to others, and profitable to themselves; but to most men it is worse than lost time, and the game, even if gained, by no means worth the candle. David Hume finished college at sixteen.”

“What! Major,” exclaimed Ward, “you a rebel against Professor Grundy? Abbott I am not surprised at; he was always an eccentric in his notions.” “And still,” I said, “here is Major Duncan, elephant-hunter and interpreter, who is an eccentric in practice also, and who never was at college, yet is a decent mathematician and a fair classic; in fact, he was campaigning in India while great whiskered fellows, much his seniors,- were only schooling at Oxford and Cambridge.”

“I shall post you both when I return.”

“Do so, mon ami’, and tell the dons that I know where you got your varied accomplishments; and certainly it was not at college, as you had your classics at a good country school, your French (such as it is) chiefly at home, in Jersey, and your usual correct views by reading carefully the works of England’s worthies, and by keeping such virtuous company as Major Duncan and myself.”

“Et tu, Brute !—this is dreadful. Pass the brandy, and tell me, is the study of classic authors nothing?” “Pooh, pooh! Who reads Greek or Latin authors after leaving school or college, except for cram, or some pecuniary end?—a very few.”

“You uncharitable Bohemian, how else should one get at the lore of Greek and Eoman?”

“Through an English road, as is done by even tolerable scholars, if they confessed the truth.”

“What a barbarian!—is he not, Major?”

“I think, Hope,” said Major Duncan, “you willingly misunderstand for the fun of the thing. Of course, you must feel that neither Abbott nor I are barbarous enough to deprecate the classics. We are simply agreed that extreme verbal scholarship is for most men extreme folly and waste of mental exercise. And possibly not all mental,” he added, laughing. “Many poor creatures are adepts at languages and philology. Mezzofante, par exempkj the most perfect linguist in Europe; in all other matters a common-place person. In fact, I question if it were great gain were all true Britons merely able to speak Latin.”

Ward groaned, “Oh! that I had Demosthenic power of reply. Shall we have coffee?”

Fred shortly came in with his fishing-basket.

“Eh, boy, have you been fishing?” Ward asked.

“Oh, no, not regularly fishing. Dick got me some worms to catch minnows for trolling; but— by the way, there are none here—but I have some small trout, just the thing;. and see, Hope, I got these three big fellows in a pool quite near.”

“By Jove, nice trout; we must, you and I, inspect this burn pretty often.”

“Is it not capital,” said the delighted youngster— “trout close to the lodge, then the big river and the wonderful loch not far away? Won’t Jack be vexed he is not here when I write to him.”

In the evening we had a quiet saunter about the glen, and got to bed before morning—some time.


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